The Trial of the Chicago 7
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) movie review
In August of 1968, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois was a massive peaceful protest against the Vietnam War turn into a riot. Five months later, seven men found themselves on trial charged with inciting the riots. An eighth, Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers, was tried with them under the same charges. The historical drama was released just this past weekend on Netflix to strong critical acclaim and, hopefully, a warm audience reception. The film was written and directed by Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin, who also wrote Molly’s Game (2017), Steve Jobs (2015), Moneyball (2011), The Social Network (2010), and more.
I have steered away from the word ‘Oscars’ a bit more than usual this year, as I have been waiting to see if any of these supposedly incredible arthouse picks will actually see releases this year. Honestly I could call it a day after this masterpiece. The Trial of the Chicago 7 showcases Sorkin’s talent behind writing and directing, as he takes a very specific event and makes it comprehensible for those who are unfamiliar with it while somehow avoiding the feel of simplifying it for the audience. In other words, the only way you won’t like this film is if you only like Bay’s latter Transformers movies.
I have not decided how attached I am to “the good and the bad” for reviews yet. I do now that to talk about Chicago 7, I need to go a bit deeper than what worked and didn’t work. So let’s start from the ground up!
I adore Sorkin’s writing. He has at least one screenplay on my Top 100, and his work here gives Steve Jobs a run for its money. The film starts out with some heavy but subtle exposition. This quickly lost us, as we weren’t as familiar with the trial and events surrounding it. As negative as that sounds, by the end I understood the events, motivations, and even names of almost everyone involved. Sure it probably depends on how invested you are, but boy does this screenplay do an incredible job bringing you into the story without overwhelming you. Sorkin does an amazing job explaining things to his audience on a level relatable to us without spoon-feeding, and couldn’t love it more.
Sorkin’s dialogue is also just perfect. Now in the spirit of fairness, there is one conversation where he uses dialogue to justify objectively harmful actions. I have absolutely no idea how true that statement is because the most I know about these events are now depicted in the film. However it does feel like a moment of adding context that might not have existed. Still, there is a guideline that when you read through a screenplay you should be able to tell the characters apart just based on the writing. Sorkin manages to do that with almost a dozen characters here, each with their own motivations and goals and feelings about the protest, war, and trail. He never loses sight of what is most important for the characters, subsequently filling the thematic layers of the film.
Look I’ve spent two paragraphs on writing; I’ll try to shorten some of my other thoughts. The themes are prevalent and focused, with the film taking its stance against the trial itself, while the characters keep their eyes set on the potential stage they have been given leveed against the potential jailtime they could receive. Themes are a key part of the story (obviously), but one that could break this film if done wrong.
Now I was not a huge fan of Sorkin’s direction in the film Molly’s Game. It was showy like Steve Jobs, but without any of the depth. For Chicago 7, he takes a page from David Fincher instead of Danny Boyle, giving the camera movement purpose. The editing is motivated, and the crosscutting might be some of the most powerful since, well, most of Nolan’s career. He also frequently works with composer Daniel Pemberton, and while I have not listened to this score on its own yet, it stood out as one of the more moving ones 2020 has given us.
And then you have the performances, which are too many to name. Sufficed to say everyone did an incredible job. Eddie Redmayne, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, are standouts, but Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Jeremy Strong, and Frank Langella are Oscar contenders. (I mean I would be fine with anyone here being an Oscar contender.) Sacha Baron Cohen delivers a performance that ends up being one of the most heartfelt in the film, while Frank Langella Honorable Judge Julius Hoffman turns in a performance worthy of the great villains in politics in film.
Honestly, this film has it all. I laughed a lot more than I thought I would, I sat forward nervously, and for the rest I was just as emotionally invested. Between the film’s razor sharp editing, perfect grasp on themes and tone, strong performances and cinematography, fantastic pacing, and of course Oscar worthy writing, The Trial of the Chicago 7 might one of the best screenplays I’ve seen in a while, and it makes one of the best films I have seen all year. Okay that’s not saying much, and I don’t know how this movie would hold up in a normal year. But this is 2020, and every little bit helps. 9/10.
So The Trial of the Chicago 7? Have you seen it yet? What did you think? And what is your favorite historical courtroom drama? Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And if you liked this review and you want to read more, be sure to let us know what you’d like us to review next!
-review by Ryan Prince